Friday Slide: In Defense of the Casual Game

What is a “casual game?”

It’s a term most games writers despise from the bottom of their hearts (and maybe from the bottom of their bowels, too), but we’re bound by it. I personally don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a term that’s shorthand for “a game mom might like.” However, “casual game,” along with its counterpart, “hardcore game,” forms a yin-yang that divides rather than harmonizes gamers.

It’s a shame that message boards, blogs, and Twitter accounts have become battlefields against the “casual” enemy. We’d do well to put down our arms, take a good look around, and realize we’re fortunate to be participating in gaming’s most inclusive era.

(Optional: Joining hands and singing “We Are The World.”)

To be fair, I can understand why veteran gamers are irritated by the “casual” classification. I don’t see as much negativity from iPhone/iPad owners as I do from console gamers; Apple is relatively new to the mainstream gaming market compared to Nintendo or Sony, and most App Store offerings are titles that are addictive, but easy to pick up and learn. In other words, the majority of what people play on Apple’s handhelds are, in fact, casual games.

But Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft built their early success on a dedicated audience that craved adventure and challenge, so it’s understandable that fans might feel betrayed by Nintendo’s waggle, or Microsoft’s Project Natal (now officially called “Wave”). As a long-time gamer, I personally don’t feel betrayed, nor do I feel my demographic is under-serviced because Nintendo developed and marketed Wii Fit to enormous success. I do, however, understand the bitterness some gamers hold in their hearts towards the casual market.

Straddling the line as I do, I try to make angry people understand the benefits of casual games. Casual games have introduced gaming to people who previously wouldn’t have touched it with a pole a mere generation ago. Gaming is not an exclusive club, nor should it be. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. We’ve known this for ages. Let’s share this knowledge with outsiders.

If mom hears about Wii Sports Resort, she might give it a look. She might enjoy it. And if she plays games, she’s more likely to learn there’s far more to the pastime than the latest newspaper scare piece about Killed by Death XVIII. She’s more likely to schedule Junior’s play time and monitor his playing habits instead of banning video games outright.

But talk is cheap. It’s never easy to have everyone jump on a hobby that you were laughed at for enjoying. So whenever I feel irritated about the mainstream gushing over video games, I think back to what it was like to be a female gamer through the ’80s and ’90s. People thought I was strange; girls just didn’t play video games, and they especially didn’t enjoy them with my sky-high enthusiasm. I was teased for it, told to act like more of a girl, the works.

If casual games help foster an environment wherein nobody thinks it unusual for a girl to enjoy video games, I’m more than happy to take the bad with the good.